By Todd Shimkus, CCE
This past year, I was honored to have been
elected to serve on the board of directors of
the American Chamber of Commerce Executives
(ACCE). During my first board meeting
in Chicago, in April of 2012, the fifty assembled
chamber leaders from around the U.S. were
asked to share the most significant challenge
facing their community at that moment in time.
The challenges facing many of the communities
represented there that day were daunting–significant
job losses, high unemployment, substantial
numbers of business closings, high downtown
vacancy rates, the impact of catastrophic natural
disasters on their communities, and brutal political
battles resulting in paralysis or significantly
higher taxes or cuts to local services.
As is often the case, there were also a few chamber leaders who were able to offer some hope and optimism. Oklahoma City; Lexington, Ky.; Salt Lake City and Saratoga County still come to mind seven months later as communities ahead of the economic curve.
So as we enter 2013, I think I can safely say that Saratoga County’s economic outlook begins with a few positive trends other communities across the U.S. would like to be experiencing. While many of our neighbors continue to look for work, Saratoga County’s unemployment rate is lower than most. Our county’s population is on the rise and our housing market is showing signs of consistent growth with respect to the number of sales and increasing prices.
Our County’s private sector income is up 6 percent versus two years ago and people are spending more locally as witnessed by the increase in sales taxes collected by Saratoga County in 2012 versus 2011. I believe private sector income is the most important trend for us to watch and as long as it continues to rise we’ll see more jobs created too.
We’re also seeing the private sector building again all across Saratoga County, from new apartment buildings, to new stores, to expanded manufacturing and distribution facilities. New York state is investing in new infrastructure as well from improving rail service with the help of Federal dollars to a wide range of projects funded through the governor’s regional economic development council.
We’re also looking forward to an unprecedented level of exposure encouraging people to visit Saratoga County to take part in our celebration of 150 years of thoroughbred racing at the historic Saratoga Race Course, in 2013.
Yet I believe the key to our economic outlook being positive in 2013 and beyond rests with a renewed focus on supporting locally owned businesses. As Adam Smith once noted, “To win first you must not lose.” This means we must come together as a community to support the locally owned businesses that are and always have been the lifeblood of Saratoga County’s cities, towns and villages.
The small businesses we need to support are those we often approach first to ask for donations to help a local cause or charitable entity. In particular, these locally owned businesses often find the early part of the year the most challenging given the weather. To help them not only survive but to thrive is paramount to our future economic potential and to making sure we are a unique place in which to live, to work, to visit and to own or operate a business.
The vast majority of the members of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce are small businesses with less than five employees. For these small businesses to be visible, it is our job and mission at the Chamber to be their vocal advocates and promoters.
We do so constantly online at www.saratoga.org and via our Facebook page. We do so when people call or e-mail us looking for local businesses with which to do business. We do so as well via our many networking events that help businesses to connect with others to develop positive relationships that will lead to new sales, customers and clients.
We’re visible as well on behalf of small businesses in columns like these. In fact, I’m willing to suggest that if you look at the advertisers in this great publication that the vast majority of them are small locally operated businesses.
They are the ones who are among the most active in seeking to promote themselves, their products and their services to local consumers and prospective clients. They’re often times the first to volunteer to support a local community effort or charitable organization. They too are the ones we should patronize and do business with whenever we can make such a choice.
So in 2013, I believe our economic outlook is positive provided we all do our part to take a look around to see all of the unique local businesses we have in our communities. Better yet, they’ll benefit greatly as will we all if we visit them and do business with them as regularly as possible. Let’s be sure we win as a community first by making sure our local small businesses succeed, grow and thrive starting right now.